Like a modern economic horror story, Ramin Bahrani’s drama takes us back to 2010, when places like Orlando, Fla., were being ravaged by the housing crisis. A time fraught with terrors like foreclosures and evictions, as well as monsters like speculators and flippers making a fast buck.
Laid-off construction worker and single dad Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) is tossed from his modest home by the shark-like Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who handles foreclosures for a bank. Nash is so desperate to regain his house, and to be something more than a loser struggling to live in a motel room, that he agrees to do some basic rehab work for Carver. The odd couple quickly develops a mutually beneficial working relationship, and Carver mentors Nash to undertake more profitable, if unpleasant, jobs, such as evicting families or running reimbursement scams.
But the higher on the financial ladder Nash ascends, the further his soul drops into the void. And for viewers, this fast-paced film, which crackles with good performances, the tension is waiting for the inevitable moment when Nash is forced to pick a side between money and morality. Not that the system has to make any tough calls: The film is a scathing indictment of the messy “bailout” of big money that heaped more miseries on folks at the bottom. There’s nothing particularly subtle about 99 Homes (Bahrani’s earlier films include the much more spare Chop Shop and Man Push Cart) and it eventually falls victim to narrative contrivance. But it’s a real-life scary tale we’d be wise to heed.